Akkadian Shuila-Prayers, Existential Exile, and Ritual Banishment

Document Type

Conference Presentation


Religious Studies

Conference Title

Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting


Society of Biblical Literature


Baltimore, MD

Conference Dates

November 23-26, 2013

Date of Presentation

Fall 11-24-2013


In an Old Babylonian letter, a young woman complains to her father that she has felt poorly ever since he dedicated her to Nergal. She pleads with her father to send her something lest she be seized and expelled onto the streets. She fears if this were to happen, she would "not acquire a god, who could restore" her. That is, the experience would have proven her lack of favor with her personal god. (See Frankena, AbB 6 140.) This young woman's potentially problematic situation well-illustrates the plight of the supplicants in shuila-prayers, the best-attested genre of Akkadian prayers. In this presentation, I will introduce shuila-prayers generally and discuss the position of the supplicant vis-à-vis two groups mentioned in the texts, the supplicant's personal gods and their enemies (human and demonic). As a survey of the prayers shows, the supplicant is often caught between the neglect of their personal gods, on the one hand, who were withholding health, success, and general well-being, and the unwanted attention of their human or demonic enemies, on the other, who had brought illness, misfortune, and malaise. As the formulaic prayers show, the supplicant appeals to a high god in the pantheon to restore the presence of the personal gods and to banish their enemies, thereby restoring the equilibrium to the supplicant's life. Although the shuilas may never mention physical displacement or exile, they strongly bear witness to the crisis of those who had lost divine presence as well as to the ritual process used by such people to dispel unwanted encumbrances.

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